Out & About: DaPonte String Quartet opens season

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As the calendar flips to November, virtually all the region’s performing, producing and presenting organizations are into their 2017-2018 seasons. The last two off the mark are the DaPonte String Quartet and the Oratorio Chorale, both of get going on Saturday.

The DaPontes plan five performances of a three-piece program in five venues spread between Portland and Rockport.

The Oratorio Chorale opens its 2017-2018 season on Saturday and Sunday with two performances of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” in Portland and Brunswick.

Simon Shaheen, an Israeli-born Arab-American, is a master of the oud. Portland Ovations hosts him for a concert on Friday.

Saxophone professor Barry Saunders will be the featured artist this Friday at the University of Southern Maine School of Music in Gorham.

DaPonte String Quartet

Maine’s busiest classical string quartet will open its 2017-2018 season this weekend with five performances of a program of three pieces that represent different countries and disparate styles.

Busiest? The DaPonte String Quartet plays about 50 dates per year in Maine, including a three-program fall-winter-spring series and a separate summer season. The four musicians – violinists Dino Liva and Lydia Forbes, violist Kirsten Monke and cellist Myles Jordan – also play a number of special programs in schools and libraries. Liva and Jordan are founding members, beginning in the early 1990s in Philadelphia and moving to Maine a few years later. I have been a DSQ regular at for almost two decades.

Three string quartets are on the program. The first is by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, an epitome of the Austrian-Viennese Classical school. Liva characterizes this as “introspective.” The second item on the program is by Bela Bartok, a 20th-century Hungarian composer. The concluding piece is by Johannes Brahms, representing the apex of German Romanticism.

Five performances are scheduled: Nov. 4 at 4 p.m. at St. Columba’s Church, 32 Emery Lane in Boothbay Harbor, Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. at the Lincoln Theater, 2 Theater St. in Damariscotta, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St. in Portland, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Rockport Opera House, 6 Central St. in Rockport, and Nov. 12 at 3 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, 15 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. Call 529-4555.

Oratorio Chorale

The best-known choral work of the Baroque tradition comprises the first program for the Oratorio Chorale’s 2017-2018 season, which launches this Saturday and Sunday. The piece is George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” a huge work in three major subdivisions and 52 subsections, scored for four soloists, chorus and small orchestra. The performance will be conducted by artistic director Emily Isaacson.

“Messiah” has the distinction of being the oldest work of music to be presented every year since its first performance. For 275 years, Handel’s masterpiece has been performed at least once, and it is now heard hundreds of times annually around the globe. Most often it is scheduled around Christmas, but Handel conducted its premiere at Easter and it’s occasionally performed at other times as well.

The libretto, centered on Jesus Christ, is 100 percent biblical text, selected from the King James Authorized Version and submitted to the composer by Charles Jennens. Handel himself continually revised the work during his lifetime, and numerous musicologists agree that there is no single “authentic” version.

That poses challenges to music directors, says Isaacson.

“One of the things that makes ‘Messiah’ challenging and exciting for a conductor is that you have to make so many foundational decisions,” she explains. “I believe that every time you perform a work, any work, it is our job as artists to make it resonant with this exact age, time and place. But ‘Messiah’ takes this artistic concept several steps further by requiring the director to choose who plays what when and with whom.”

Isaacson’s musical forces begin with her own 70-member chorus of auditioned singers, which is now in its fifth decade of existence and fifth season under her direction. She has engaged soprano Elizabeth Marshall, mezzo-soprano Laura C. Atkinson, tenor Matthew Anderson and baritone David Tinervia for the extensive solo parts. Plus instrumentalists with the Maine Music Society will also play.

Two performances are slated Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St. in Portland, and Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Church, 39 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. Call Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006.

Simon Shaheen

The oud is a stringed instrument of great antiquity. An antecedent of the guitar, the pear-shaped out is still used in middle eastern music. This Friday Portland Ovations is hosting a concert by one of the world’s foremost exponents of the instrument.

Simon Shaheen is a U.S. citizen who was born and raised in an Arab community in Israel. He started playing oud at age five, and graduated with a degree in Arabic music performance from Tel Aviv University.

Engaging audiences with his technical prowess and brilliant improvisations, Shaheen is one of the great ambassadors of the Arab world. His program is titled “Zafir,” which translates as “wind.” The moniker refers to the myriad shifting cross-cultural influences the length and breadth of the Mediterranean Sea, including Turkey, Spain and Morocco.

Portland Ovations presents Simon Shaheen at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

USM Faculty Concert Series

Think “saxophone” and “jazz” is the usual first response. But the saxophone, invented in 1845 by Belgian instrument builder Adolphe Sax, is a versatile instrument in classical settings as well.

This aspect of the instrument will be highlighted this Friday at the University of Southern Maine School of Music when saxophone professor Barry Saunders and a trio of his musical friends present a program titled “Classically Sax.”

Saunders is best known as a jazz musician. He’s part of the Portland Jazz Orchestra, fronts his own ensemble and has played hundreds of club dates throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan. But he’s also the saxophonist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

Joining Saunders for this third installment of the USM Faculty Concert Series will be violinist Dean Stein, cellist Patrick Owen and pianist Chiharu Naruse. The program will include several major works for saxophone with piano accompaniment plus several pieces for the instrument in a chamber music setting.

Catch Barry Saunders and “Classically Sax” at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 at Corthell Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus. Call the Music Box Office at 780-5555.

DaPonte String Quartet launches its 2017-2018 season this weekend with five performances of a program that features three composers from three countries.

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